Aging well

Program helps elderly stay safe, healthy

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— Jennie Chin Hansen's interest in older people began when she was 10.

Hansen was a Girl Scout who helped deliver turkeys to a nursing home. One resident wasn't as interested in the food as she was in holding Hansen's hand and looking into her eyes. She was lonely and needed someone to spend time with her.

For more information about Aging Well, a Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association program: Call coordinator Dace Kramer at 871-7633.

Hansen is now president-elect of AARP. Thirty-five years ago, she was part of an organization that started at-home care. The program provided a type of "day hospital" where older people could receive care but spend their nights at home.

It took 15 to 20 years for the results of the program to show, but there now are about 40 similar projects across the country, Hansen said in a forum organized by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Asso--ciation.

Last year, the VNA launched a program called Aging Well, which is designed to help people older than 50 stay safe, independent, healthy and at home for as long as possible.

Hansen said now is the time to promote communities that are educated about aging.

"We are in a global change point now. There are boomers all over the place," she said. Baby boomers are loosely defined as people who were born in the mid- to late 1940s.

"This affects us all, whether we're poor or we're rich," Hansen said.

Dr. Bill Thomas, AARP visiting scholar, said during last week's forum in Steamboat Springs that older people determine the health of a community. The number of older people shows how well residents take care of children and adults, he said.

"Old people are the glue that hold us together," Thomas said. "America has lost touch with elderhood."

Thomas said "elderhood" is what adults are supposed to grow into. During elderhood, people are meant to look at family, their legacy and other issues in different ways, he said.

Imagine if people never grew out of childhood, Thomas said. Society would have the same problems if people never grew out of adulthood.

"We need elders' voices," he said. Their voices should influence adults based on life experiences, Thomas said. That way, when people die, those they leave behind will have better lives.

The VNA has raised $1.8 million, money that has gone to the acquisition of The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden, the future construction of a community center next to The Haven and the Aging Well program.

The idea behind Aging Well is to keep people out of institutions and allow them to be more independent later in their lives, said Dace Kramer, the program coordinator.

"For me, it's a matter of creating a climate in this community that supports our aging adults," she said.

Doing so requires partnerships with other organizations in the community, Kramer said.

On Friday, a group of people age 50 and older met to do Pilates at Steamboat Pilates & Fitness Studio. The VNA partnered with the studio for the activity.

Another new exercise program in the works is called N Balance, in which seniors can work on balance and flexibility to help prevent falls. Falls are a big risk factor for older adults, Kramer said.

VNA officials are working on and discussing other potential partnerships, she said. One program being planned is one in which people's homes can be assessed for safety. If shower grab bars or ramps are needed, they will be provided.

Officials also want to start a wellness campus at The Haven, Kramer said.

"The idea is that people will quit thinking about old age and frailty and disability and starting thinking about it as a time of renewal ... and staying engaged in the community," she said.

The campus will start with the new community center that will be built at The Haven, she said. The center's activities may include classes where seniors teach their peers as well as younger generations.

A business plan is beginning to take shape for other facilities on The Haven site. There may be housing for seniors who want to live close to meals and medical care but also want to continue living in their own place.

Kramer said the VNA is looking into providing adult day services, in which seniors could have social engagements and receive me----dical care while caregivers are gone for the day. Then the seniors can sleep in their own homes.

Thomas said that in the Yampa Valley, there is a unique set of circumstances, including having a small population that is spread out. Aging Well is dealing with that, he said.

"The VNA is a creative, imaginative organization that wants to solve problems for people," Thomas said. "I think it will be a nationally-recognized approach."

The VNA recognizes the challenges that rural areas bring, Kramer said.

"We all love living here, and we love the fact that we are not in a densely populated area, but isolation can be a barrier to things," Kramer said. "We're trying to break down those isolating factors in our lives as we get older."

-- To reach Dana Strongin call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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